Fundamental Violin Techniques: How to Hold the Bow

October 26, 2023, 6:06 PM · Violinists hold the bow in a very particular way, and for good reasons. If you can set up your bow hand and train your muscles correctly, you can develop flexible but strong fingers and a relaxed way of holding the bow that allows you to play everything from Bach to country fiddle music.

The bow-hand I teach - and that is most frequently taught - is based on the "Franco-Belgian bow hold." (There is also a "Russian bow hold" that works well for many violinists, but I'm going to focus on the hold that I use and teach.)

The way we place the fingers on the bow is just a start, and you'll learn how the balance works as you play more and learn more bowing techniques. Over time, you'll make it your own and optimize it in small ways for your body, to be most effective.

Here is a video demonstration, and then I have explained the details below in writing. Below that is more information about the history of this bow-hold. It starts with reviewing the parts of the bow; skip to 2:09 for just the bow-hold explanation.

Parts of the bow:

The part of the bow that we hold is called the "frog." (Know one knows quite why.) The pointy end is called the "tip." The wood part of the bow is called the "stick," and the bow is strung with horse hair (no worries, just a bit from the tail) and then rubbed with rosin to make it sticky. If there is no rosin on the bow, it will not make a sound! The shiny silver item at the base of the hair, connecting it to the frog, is called the "ferrule." The round decoration on the bow is called the "eye." On the stick, by the frog is the metal "winding," and on top of that is the "leather" or "grip." The "screw" tightens or loosens the hair.

Parts of a violin bow

Importantly: I do not call this a "bow grip," as the word "grip" implies a strong and inflexible way of holding. It's a "bow hold." And the placement of the fingers is flexible - the fingers will look different at the frog and and the tip of the bow.

Finger placement

The placement of each finger is based on its "role" in holding the bow. Here is a rundown:

THUMB: The thumb is placed on the stick, between the frog and the leather. The thumb should be bent, touching the stick near the top right corner of the thumb nail. The thumb should not be poking through. The thumb should not be locked straight. When bowing back and forth, the thumb will be bent at the frog, and it will straighten somewhat at the tip - but it should never become locked straight. Note: very young beginners often start with the thumb on the ferrule, to create a nice round shape. They move it inside to the stick after a fairly short period of time.

MIDDLE FINGERS: The middle finger, plus the finger next to it (by the pinkie) "hug" the stick of the bow at the top joints. The middle finger itself is across from the thumb.

POINTER FINGER: This finger rests on its side, between the middle joints, on the stick. It does not hook around the stick, and it does not "hold" the bow. It is used primarily for leverage, to "lean" into the string and create "weight" or "pressure." It can also help guide the stick on a straight path.

PINKIE: The pinkie should be curved, with the tip of the pinkie resting on top of the stick. TO be very specific, it rests on the second octagonal from the frog (see the video for where this is). The role of the pinkie is to hold the weight of the bow when lifting it off the string. It also carries the weight of the bow at the frog.

Bow care

Winding and unwinding: When you get out the bow, wind up the hair until it is about 8mm from the stick. Make sure the stick still bends a bit toward the hair. If the stick is completely straight or bending outward, then the hair is wound too tight. When you put away the bow, unwind it until the hair is touching the stick.

Rosin: Rosin the bow about 10 swipes whenever you use it to play.

Re-hairing the bow: Depending on how much you are playing, have the bow re-haired every six months to a year for optimum sound.

History of the Franco-Belgian bow hold

The Franco-Belgian bow hold was taught be some of the 20th century's most important teachers, including Josef Gingold, Ivan Galamian and Shinichi Suzuki -- and that means that many of today's most accomplished violinists have this bow hold: Joshua Bell, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman are just a few. The Franco-Belgian hold involves a bent/flexible thumb, a pinkie that is curved and active, two middle fingers draped around the stick, and the pointer touching the bow stick between the middle two joints.

The Russian bow hold was very famously used by Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein. It involves a bow hand that is very pronated, leaning toward the pointer finger, with a straight pinkie.

You might also like:

* * *

Enjoying Click here to sign up for our free, bi-weekly email newsletter. And if you've already signed up, please invite your friends! Thank you.


October 27, 2023 at 02:49 PM · [Frog] from the German word [Frosch], which has two dictionary meanings, that amphibian that jumps, and the machine part of a spindle screw and eye that causes lateral motion. In English, [Frog] is also a part of an infantry soldiers kit, the leather adapter hanging from the belt that holds the bayonet sheath.

October 27, 2023 at 04:10 PM · Yes!! Thank you Joel for that explanation! I’m a big fan of the jumping amphibian type, so I’ve always just embraced the homonym. I have a little bean bag frog with big beady eyes who appears suddenly on the music stand when a student is not going to the frog when playing scales, for example. I’m curious about what the spindle screw and leather adapter look like!

October 27, 2023 at 05:21 PM · spindle screw is that mechanism inside the wooden frog, easily seen by taking the nut completely out. For a picture of that other thing try google [civil war leather frog].

October 28, 2023 at 12:28 AM · The toutube video of a frog doing a poo is will make your eyes water. Great blog Laurie. It covers the basics with a beautiful hold to illusttate. I think there is potential for a gentle next level follow up. That is, once all this is under control, issues such as when the fingers have a higher or deeper contact with the bow, flexible fingers addded to bow strokes and the role of the fingers on the sticki terms of balance (perhaps the Gingold exercise)

Idle thoughts,


October 28, 2023 at 07:29 PM · My approach to the bow hold - and I totally agree with Laurie, hold not grip - actually combines aspects of the Russian, Franco-Belgian and Dounis approaches. I can get into more details in a future post if there is interest. But for now I want to focus on this: Like Laurie I advocate for a bent thumb - at least in the initial down bow movement. But here is my most frustrating experience as a teacher: Over and over again I have had students who not only won’t bend their thumb out but very much bend their thumb back despite innumerable reminders in the course of any given lesson! And I am talking about new beginners from the get-go as well as those coming from other teachers with various bad habits.

I have tried everything I can think of, including the classic FB image of making a ring with the thumb and second finger, asking them to imagine how their fingers would feel picking up an apple or orange from a table. I have asked them to close their eyes and purposely bend their thumb and pinky too, which is often just as problematic, in and out, which they can often do successfully. I ask them “how did you do it with your eyes closed?” “Well it felt different” “Exactly”, I say, “so remember how it feels even when looking at the music.” I have also asked them to raise their hands as though someone said “stick ‘em up!” I ask them to look at their thumbs and fingers. They all naturally curve out to some degree. It takes more effort to bend in than out - like smiling vs frowning. Speaking of thumb and pinky, some will temporarily succeed with one or the other but not both at the same time. I am reminded of the uncertainty principle in physics!

I know about the device that attaches to the bow and locks the hand into proper place but I have some issues with it:

1. It adds a lot of weight and bulk.

2. It feels like a straight jacket.

3. In my approach the thumb and pinky get less bent on the way to the point which that device will not allow.

I am open to suggestion, folks. I am tearing my hair out over this (from my head, not the bow!)

October 28, 2023 at 10:11 PM · Raphael, all I can say is that I feel your pain, it is an eternal problem! I can remember going to a master class - I think it was Midori, at USC. She was working with a high-level college student - having to point out that many of his problems stemmed from a locked thumb!

October 28, 2023 at 11:44 PM · Thanks Laurie!

October 30, 2023 at 07:09 AM · Yep. There is an anecdote By SF in ‘The Violin Lesson’ about an extremely high level student who had the same problem if I rememberr correctly. Another very common problem is failing to release the thumb pressure 100% when returning to the heel. I have taught professionals with this problem. They just hadn’t noticed that that tine 1% of extra tension was not only blocking their real potential but causing cumulative damage over time.



October 30, 2023 at 03:53 PM · I also frequently see the straight right thumb in students. In addition to removing some control of the bow, it puts the stick farther out towards the fingertips, reducing leverage. My antidote, which only works half of the time, is to have the student firmly grasp a baseball, which produces the Round Hand, fingers separated and curved, thumb bent and closer to the 2nd finger. The bow should feel like it is inside the hand. (Do the same thing with the left hand)

With the straight 4th finger, the hand is easily locked up. I don't usually see a good fast spiccato in students using the Russian hold.

October 31, 2023 at 08:40 PM · Most of my beginners have been children. But one of my adult beginners was a major thumb “bendbacker” from the get-go. At one lesson, after my 100th reminder, this student, a psychotherapist by profession, asked me “why do I do it?” I said “I don’t know. YOU’RE the psychologist. But what I can tell you is that you are doing it and it is counterproductive.” Then I thought a few moments and said “maybe it’s some anxiety that is leading you to grasp the bow like that.” She said “maybe you’re right! I do have a lot of anxieties!”

So, for what it’s worth…

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker

Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal
Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Classic Violin Olympus

Coltman Chamber Music Competition

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Jargar Strings


Violin Lab



Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine